Think of a situation when one or more albums are represented by a single image. Clicking a album will not result in a navigation to the album's own URL. They open in the lightbox right away. The complete album is only accessible in the lightbox this way.

By default, when the representative (cover) image is the first photo in each album, it's no problem.

We could let the user pick the cover from:

  • an arbitrary photo, not from the album
  • a photo of the album

If the photo is not from the album, we assume it's a custom cover (like a mosaic) and it's not meant to be shown in the lightbox anyway. The lightbox will start with the first photo of the album as normal. I guess it's ok?

If the photo is part of the album:

  • Reject the custom cover photo and just use the first image? Looks easy. Then why even allow picking the cover photo from the album? In another gallery mode it's still useful: when the albums open on separate pages with thumbnails of every photo.
  • Make the lightbox set open at the cover photo? This could make the user arrive in the middle of the photo set, e.g. 46/80 photos, probably missing half the story.
  • Move the cover photo to the beginning? This would result in a "broken order" because the photo would not be where it normally belongs.
  • Copy the the cover photo to the beginning, but also keep it where it belongs? What if the cover photo is at 3/80 photos? The visitor would see the repeat soon.
  • Anything else? How to best handle this?

5 Answers 5


Let users tell the story

This is a very common situation. The user will choose a photo that represents the story they want to tell, but the story will develop sequentially. For example, let's say the user creates "My Wedding Album", and s/he uses a photo of the groom and the bride happily married. Quite possibly, this will be a photo in the middle of the album. However, to get to that photo, you'll need to follow the sequence the user designed (for example: how they met, how he proposed, getting to the church, the guests, whatever).

You'll notice the same happens with a music album: the artist uses an image that represents whatever concept s/he wants to transmit, but it does't mean it will affect the order of the songs, which will have a sequence defined by other reasons, usually rhythm or some kind of story.

In short: let the users choose the cover, it's what they want to transmit. And open the album where it starts: at the beginning. Then the story will develop as intended


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  • So I'd NOT reject the cover photo, but still link to the first image from it. Wouldn't this surprise the visitors? Is it not a problem if the visitor clicks the "groom and bride happily married" cover photo and ends up on a different (first) photo that shows how they met instead? May 2, 2016 at 21:54
  • 3
    @Firsh If you were holding a physical photo album, would you expect the cover image to be the first one you see as well? I would guess not. The cover image is to get attention and make you want to look at the album. undoubtedly you will have some people who may want to jump to the larger version of the cover image, but you would have the same problem with a physical album (where you likely have text and other things on the cover blocking some of the image). May 2, 2016 at 22:01
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    No, because that's the concept, what they want to tell. Another example: in a movie, you have some images on a poster that (hopefully) will make you want to see the movie. You won't expect to see that image at first. Furthermore, you'll expect some kind of crescendo until you reach that image, the narrative will build up to that point, and then get to a conclusion. Same will happen with an album. If I create a Facebook album, I will add the more interesting image as cover, despite if it's first, last or in the middle. It doesn't matter, people knows the cover image will be there
    – Devin
    May 2, 2016 at 22:04

Devin has the right answer for you, start at the beginning. However, one alternative would be to open up to a larger view of the cover and treat it as a cover. Meaning that you would have a nice layout with the title of the Album displayed and any other pertinent info (as if it was a physical book cover). Then the next image would be the first page. The later repeat of the selected image would not be a concern, as you are getting the unaltered/unblocked view of that image (just as you would with a physical album). This may address your concern of, but dont you think the user wants to see that specific image, while working around the concern of repeating it, as it is serving a different purpose.

  • This is the most appealing solution, you only will have to make clear that the user is viewing the cover by adding titles, descriptions or any other meta-data to the view. May 3, 2016 at 9:19

The problems

Representing albums with a single picture and using lightbox has some drawback.

  • Breaking users' expectations. They see a thumbnail and expect to see an enlarged version of it. It's a common interaction. Instead, they see completely different picture. They feel frustrated. Please note, the small gallery controls on a periphery (play, next, previous) could be missed, as the attention is focused on the large image.
  • Limiting users control and freedom. Users, who wants to see that particular image from the cover, need to use sequential search through next button. The experience differs from the standard albums, where they see all the thumbnails and can view only pictures of interest. It's a fact, some images are been looked more frequently, while some could be just skipped. It's too boring to view a large set of images in a sequential way.


The solutions

To eliminate the mentioned drawbacks you need to provide some means:

  • Set right expectations. Make it clear, it's an album, not just a separate picture. Compare the albums: enter image description here
  • Provide control and freedom. Provide a mean for preview and arbitrary access to the images, not just sequential watching. In this way user can jump to the cover image easily, too. See the picture:
    enter image description here

Then you can start an album with the first image, as @Devin proposed.

  • The thumbnail looks like on the left in most cases and it always contains the "x items" or similar counter text. Some lightbox solutions that this connects to, do offer a filmstrip gallery in the bottom although it's rare. The problem with that is often they just query all (large) photos and stuff them downscaled to the filmstrip. May 3, 2016 at 17:13

Here I have attached example as per my point of view. hope it will be helpful to you.

enter image description here

  • the user selects a photo( lets say photo 9) from the album as cover photo.
  • photo 9 shows up as the cover photo
  • user clicks on the cover to open the album
  • Photo 9 is shown in the light box as the first photo but it is still numbered 9.
  • User clicks next - photo 1 is displayed and continues to display all photos in order.
  • User closes the light box, the album is shown with having photo 9 as cover photo.

Many times the intent of having a specific photo as cover photo would be to immediately see the large version of that photo with one click. So thats what the cover photo helps with.

  • This would be one of the most confusing solutions. Stepping from 9 to 1, and you did not describe your idea for the problem of fast repitition if photo 3 is selected. May 3, 2016 at 9:18
  • It's not easy to implement either. It would be a role of the lightbox to handle this and we might not know what lightbox will get used for the gallery. May 3, 2016 at 9:33

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